Built during the 1950s, Nike missiles were anti-aircraft weapons designed to shoot down Soviet bombers before they could drop their deadly payloads on American soil. The missiles themselves were equipped with either nuclear or conventional warheads, and a total of more than 300 Nike batteries were erected around America's major cities, where they operated until the early 1970s. In the Bay Area alone there were two dozen Nike sites scattered around the region, but SF-88 is the only one in the country that remains more or less intact.
Operated under the auspices of the National Park Service and maintained by a staff of devoted volunteers, SF-88 retains most of the equipment and hardware that was used when the battery was operational.
Apart from several of the old missiles, the underground missile storage facilities are also restored, and visitors can even ride up and down the elevator that carried the rockets into firing position. Wheeee!
Elsewhere on the SF-88 grounds, right alongside a pair of radar antennae, sit the two innocuous-looking trailers that were used for target tracking and launch control. The equipment inside is pristine:
If you live anywhere near a major American city, there are probably a few abandoned Nike missile sites tucked away in the more desolate parts of your local subrubs — if you know where to look. (HINT: try this Nike missile treasure guide!) Those sites will probably be wild and overgrown, but if you go, try to remember a time when they all looked kind of like SF-88: Poised to repel a Soviet airborne invasion that never came.
Nike Missile Base SF-88 (FLickr photoset from Telstar Logistics)
National Park Service: Nike Missile Site (Official website, with visiting hours)
The Nike Historical Society (Nike alumni site with technical details)
Ed Thelen's Nike Missile Web Site (Ridiculously comprehensive enthusiast site)
Nike Missile Sites of the San Francisco Bay Area (Survey and maps by Jef Poskanzer)
Turning the Launch Key Inside a Titan ICBM Missile Silo
(IMAGES: All photos by Telstar Logistics; Nike operation graphic via nikemissile.org.)